In my blog post after the IoT World conference in May, I mused that the IoT ecosystem is in danger of confusing the heck out of everyone, and that the countless companies using the term "IoT platform" has rendered the term virtually meaningless.
While some of this is due to the immaturity of the IoT market and vendor landscape in general, it also stems from needless confusion created by broad marketing messages that make it difficult to truly understand what capabilities providers actually deliver.
Furthermore, there are multiple elements that can comprise "IoT platforms" — aspects of PaaS, IaaS, and SaaS. In fact, IoT platforms can contain some, or all of the following components:
- Network connectivity and management
- Data acquisition & processing
- Device and sensor management
- Security, including authentication, identity management, data encryption
- Analytics, both edge and cloud
- Data storage
- App-enablement, including app integration and API management
This isn't a comprehensive, and all of these elements above can have multiple sub-components. The reality is that "IoT platform" has become a catch-all for the necessary architectural components that are needed to deploy an IoT solution.
Aside from the complexity inherent in this technology bouillabaisse, it's also an increasingly crowded vendor landscape. A variety of different types of vendors have launched platforms which attempt to address some of — or a majority of — the elements above, including:
- Cloud providers, such as Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and Google.
- Industrial technology companies, such as GE, Bosch, Hitatchi, and PTC.
- IoT-specific vendors, both legacy (who have existed under-the-radar for years) and startups alike, including KORE, Aeris, Xively, Electric Imp, Ayla, Bug Labs, and many others (the list goes on).
- Traditional IT giants, such as Cisco, Salesforce, Oracle, etc.
Ultimately, what IoT decision makers and the market at large need is some simplification when it comes to IoT platforms. This will come down to a few things:
- Clarity. Vendors need to tone down broad marketing rhetoric and provide greater detail about what platform components they provide — and which ones they don't. And further, there should truly be an emphasis on the core strengths of the platform versus which elements are there to just fill out a comprehensive platform story. Which leads to...
- Cooperation and partnerships. As it stands, there is no one, be-all/end-all provider for IoT. IoT solutions will need multiple vendors working in cooperation and integrating parts of their unique solutions. The concept behind IoT platforms is to simplify deployment and management for IoT by offering all the elements in a managed or "as-a-serivce" model. But part of the simplification should include easier integration of different vendor solutions where applicable.
For example, a large cloud IoT platform offering elements of IaaS could still necessitate integration with an IoT-specific vendor offering network connectivity management. And while most IoT platform companies are promoting some degree of analytics capabilities, they will need to integrate with existing big data technology solutions.
- Consolidation. As with any nascent but high-growth technology market, there will be a period in which the vendor landcape sprouts a multitude of start-ups. At the same time, large, established vendors are attempting to get on the IoT bandwagon. Consolidation will naturally happen over the course of time. In fact, it's already begun — Cisco (Jasper), PTC (Axeda, ThingWorx), KORE (Wyless), are a few recent examples.
- Categorization and industry focus. Over time, platform providers may stop going broad, and instead focus on specific market segments to both differentiate themselves from competitors, and/or develop specific industry requirements. Industrial technology companies already have built-in focus by their nature. The big cloud providers will likely remain fairly broad in their focus, but could develop industry-specific functionality. And we will likely see a true deliniation between platforms focused on industrial IoT versus consumer/product IoT.
These are just some initial thoughts, and over the next coming weeks and months, ESG will be diving deeper into the IoT platform space with some reports and research aimed at providing increasing clarity of the technology and market for both buyers and vendors alike. We'll be creating an IoT platform taxonomy to help segment the market landscape, and which will include views into both the components of platforms and the different vendor categories and companies participating in the market. Please reach out directly to me for more information if you'd like to share your thoughts.